Delhi’s Odd Even Experiment

In an attempt to control the increasing pollution levels, the Delhi government experimented with odd-even policy from 1 January to 15 January. The odd-even policy restricts the use of cars, allowing those with an odd last number to ply on odd dates, and vice versa. There are some exceptions, like women-driven vehicles and two-wheelers. The policy envisages reducing the number of vehicles on Delhi roads by about 50% to reduce the level of air pollution in the city. The overall response to the policy is mixed.

Was it successful?

It is difficult say whether the experiment is successful or not as the air pollution data is limited and it comes from many different sources. Pollution also varies depending on various factors which have no relation with odd-even policy. Thus, the trends in pollution monitors won’t reflect the effect of the policy. Different assessments on policy are contradictory, ranging from “massive success” to “complete failure”. In a rigorous study, it was concluded that the experiment had some effect in reduction of particulate air pollution concentrations. There is a general consensus that the policy had effect on reducing the traffic levels.

While the odd-even policy reduced pollution levels, there are questions about ability of the scheme to reduce pollution over longer run. It is because the policy could even make the situation worse by encouraging households to buy second cars that are old and very pollution.

The odd-even formula is a short-term measure to reduce the number of vehicles. Some of the issues with odd-even policy are: the large number of vehicles entering Delhi from neighbouring areas faces the problem; the policy implementation requires additional funding to provide adequate public transportation and monitoring of vehicular movement; and there is a perception of alienation among people.

What are the alternatives policies?

A viable long-term solution should not disrupt any economic activity and should not cause inconvenience to travelling public. The real challenge is to achieve positive results in a repeatable, sustainable manner, so that no special effort is needed. There are three policy options: moral suasion, command and control, and economic incentives.

Moral suasion means persuading people to follow environment-friendly practices. The government should educate people through advertisements and awareness campaigns. Campaigns to use public transport and car-pooling need to be conducted. The limitation under this policy option is the decision is left to individuals with no penalty for non-compliance.

In case of command and control policy, the government directly imposes controlling measures on traffic movement, vehicle speed, emission levels, fuel-use, and safety norms. These measures are coercive. The measures like use of lead-free fuel, conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) and tightening of emission standards in Delhi have given positive results initially but the benefits have waned over the years. This can be due to non-availability of enough public transportation facilities.

The economic incentives are in the form of taxes and subsidies to attain the desired objectives and leaving the decision-making to individual’s economic-rationality. The government can follow two-pronged strategy of imposition of congestion tax on private vehicles, and subsidy on public transport. This will alter the cost-benefits associated with private and public vehicles. The collected congestion tax can be used for strengthening of public transport. Private vehicle users will gain by saving on time and fuel cost with reduction in the number of vehicles. The general public benefited through reduction in health cost.

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